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What is yoga therapy?

Yoga is an ancient, eastern practice meaning union. It teaches us to take responsibility for our own health through the union of postures (asanas), breathing (pranayama), relaxation and meditation. This union helps us to achieve self-awareness and balance.

Yoga Therapy aims to be both preventative and curative. It tailors and adapts classical yoga practices to suit the individual needs of people with specific health problems such as asthma, arthritis, back pain and ME. There is nothing mystical about it - it is simply about understanding your own body and its limitations and about thinking positively. It keeps the body supple and mobile and keeps the joints moving.

Yoga therapists believe that you should never push yourself to get into a particular posture, to copy the picture in the book or compete with others in achieving the "perfect" posture. Rather, Yoga Therapy encourages you to realise your own limitations and relax; the more relaxed you are, the further your body will go.

What are the benefits?

Classical yoga postures, modified where necessary, can help to regain or maintain the strength and suppleness of muscles and joints, and improve the functioning of all body systems.

Yoga therapy is good for everyone. Those with structural problems such as arthritis or back pain may find it particularly useful.

Irish people are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of yoga for general health and wellbeing and in the treatment of specific illness. Doctors, too, are more open now to the benefits of yoga as a complementary therapy, especially for conditions like high blood pressure, heart conditions and breathing difficulties. Indeed, a lot of the exercises recommended by physiotherapists and sports therapists are yoga based.

What does a typical session involve?

Following a consultation with a qualified yoga therapist, a personal yoga program of modified yoga positions will be devised specifically for you. This will allow you to become aware of your own body and what you can and cannot do. You can then bring that awareness to a general class, attend small group therapy sessions or have a series of one-to-one sessions designed to teach you how to practice your program at home.

Modified positions are drawn from all the classical yoga postures and therefore have the same health benefits but without the risk of injury.

The postures are designed to align the body and this alignment comes from having a straight back. Allowing the spine to be straight will have positive effects on the rest of your body. Practicing a basic sitting posture - even in a modified form with props such as foam blocks or cushions - will help achieve this; it will lift your spine and your rib cage and create space. This simple movement will allow your body the space to perform and improve your breathing - it will give a greater sense of confidence and wellbeing.

Is Yoga Therapy safe?

Yoga Therapy trainers are qualified in anatomy and physiology to nursing level. So, while they are not permitted to diagnose problems, they will understand medical diagnosis and have the required medical knowledge to help you.

Is Yoga Therapy suitable for everyone?

Yoga is for everybody no matter what size, shape or build. However, if you are pregnant and have not practiced yoga before, it is not recommended that you commence classes until you are about 12 weeks pregnant. After this time you can continue practicing yoga throughout your pregnancy until you are no longer comfortable. At this stage you may consider moving to a more specialized yoga class designed especially for pregnant women. Such classes will concentrate on particular breathing techniques and postures so that when it does come to delivering your baby you can really focus on your breathing.